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A New Reason For Your Hope
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
Everyone here this morning is being asked to give an explanation for their hope. Without unnecessarily putting too fine a point on it, everyone out there wants to know why we are in here; and their interest is not a matter of mere curiosity but one of deep suspicion. The explanation they seek is, in keeping with the Greek word St. Peter uses, an apologia: a formal defense or justification of one's actions or opinions. We are on trial in the court of public opinion, and the jury set to pass its verdict upon us is not impartial.
God's word calls us this morning to be ready with our apologia — our defense — for our belief. We are tasked with building our case to explain why we are here: why we believe in Christ, why we belong to the Church, why we still come to Mass on Sunday mornings to worship. How are we to build our case?
Every apologia needs the support of a martus — that is, every solid defense must rely upon a witness to testify in support; and it is this word — martus — which comes originally from a legal context, that Jesus uses when he tells his apostles that they will be his martures — his witnesses — to the ends of the earth. The most compelling testimony his witnesses can give is that which costs them their very lives; and, thus, we call those whose blood has been shed as witnesses to Christ martyrs. But that title can also be extended to all who, without being called upon to go the full way, still bear witness to the truth of Christ. For anyone to buy it, our apologia — our defense — must be grounded on the testimony of martyrs. But where are we to find them?
Pope Benedict XVI wrote in a letter from retirement:
Today's Church is more than ever a 'Church of the Martyrs' and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering... One of the great and essential tasks of our evangelization is... to find and recognize them.
In Pope Benedict's view, witnesses abound in the Church, in every part, if only we have the eyes of faith to see them.
I was invited last December to fly out to Denver with a team from the Basilica of the Assumption to visit the missionary program Christ in the City. The purpose of the trip was to learn from Christ in the City, which ministers to the poor and homeless of Denver, how the Basilica's program, Source of All Hope, which does the same here in Baltimore, could be strengthened. It didn't take long after we walked into their building to feel that we had walked into something special. Every person we met was more impressive than the last: about 40 missionaries from around the country and even from abroad, all deeply committed to their mission and joyfully living the Christian life in common together. Some were taking gap-years in college. Some had graduated with distinguished degrees. Some were discerning priesthood or religious life. All were serious about serving the Church however God called them. I stood in the refectory as they scurried about from table to table assembling their breakfast thinking that if these individuals were the only Christians left on earth, I would have no doubts in the slightest that the Gospel would spread from there to fill it once again. This, I thought, is why I believe. This is the Church. This is the Church that Baltimore needs to see.
My friends thought the same. Right away, we began to think how Source of All Hope could grow from a handful of missionaries into a center of Catholic life for Baltimore like Christ in the City is for Denver. The ideas that ensued were not mine. I cannot take any credit at all for the vision. But we returned from Denver with a plan, and we took that plan to the Archdiocese and received a full endorsement for what we wanted to do. We asked for a campus,a space for the missionaries to live, pray, and be formed in genuine community, which they have not had; and we also proposed the creation of a sister missionary program, sponsored by the Cathedral, that would complement Source's mission of bringing Christ to the poor by bringing Christ to the youth. Two missionary programs, based out of Baltimore's two co-cathedrals, with young adults living under one roof at St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden as joyful witnesses of Christ and his Church, serving two of the greatest needs of our Archdiocese and City: together, a light brightly visible of the hope of Christ within us.
This morning, I am very happy to announce our new missionary program at Cathedral, dedicated to youth engagement in parishes and schools, which will be called Gift of All Truth. The truth is not an idea but the very person of Jesus Christ; and there is no more precious gift a young person could receive than to know that the truth of the world and of their lives is found in the truth of the same Jesus who said in today's Gospel, I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Jesus will come to the youth of our Archdiocese through the Gift of All Truth missionaries, as they give talks, retreats, and in-services, engaging young people on their heart's deepest desire for Christ and his heart's burning love for them. In addition to what they teach, they will bear witness before all they encounter that the Christian life is both possible and beautiful. They will be compelling reasons for our hope.
It will take some time to build and develop the program, but we expect to formally launch Gift of All Truth in the summer of 2024. In the meantime, Source of All Hope will move to St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Hampden this summer; and the missionary staff is working very hard to ensure both programs will flourish and bear much fruit.
Friends, this is an exciting time for our Cathedral and our Archdiocese. This can — and by God's grace will be — something truly beautiful. I ask you to pray, fervently, for the missionaries who will come to Baltimore to serve and for the success of their ministry: that hope and truth may be found in the hearts of all they will reach.
And pray, finally, that Source of All Hope and Gift of All Truth would be for this local church of Baltimore, and for the Basilica and the Cathedral parishes, all the explanation we need for our hope in Christ and his Church.
Homily preached May 14, 2023 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.